UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Flaxman's Homer illustrations Stuart, John Radcliffe


Since their appearance in 1793 John Flaxman's illustrations to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey have been associated with the ancient art that inspired their commission. In this thesis they are examined from a standpoint other than that adopted in the major literature. Besides sustaining Flaxman's own assertion that the designs were to be used for sculpture, their conception is related to outline designs submitted to his former emloyer of 12 years, industrialist Josiah Wedgwood. More significantly, their most conspicuous characteristics--their two-dimensional space, absence of colour, texture, and detail and most noticeably their rendering in simple outline—are, for the first time, placed in another context of considerable importance in the 18th Century. Line drawing and its multiple-production counterpart, line engraving, were the representational modes of choice in the transmission of essential ideas in a wide variety of disciplines including his own designs for Wedgwood. Exclusive of the connection with ancient art, simple line would have been regarded as the most suitable form of illustration for the epic poems which were being studied at the time as models of the essential human society. This thesis treats Flaxman's designs as one aspect of the effort to define universal truths and the related need to create conceptual models of them in the 18th Century. To establish the designs in this-j broader context, the first four chapters set out in succession: the search for, and representation of, the essential in the 18th Century; Flaxman's relationship to it with special reference to his education and 12 year association with Wedgwood; the production of the Homer designs themselves from his studies of art works he had seen and, the critical reviews of the illustrations and their subsequent adoption by other artists as sources of inspiration. The thesis concludes by critically analyzing Flaxman's achievement, reviewing his objectives for the series and relating the designs to industrial/workshop drawings by Flaxman and other contemporary artists.

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